A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Plan A

Filed under: Background,Fan Experience,Organization,Personnel,Players — Wigi @ 4:36 pm December 3, 2010

While my ties to Washington baseball are long and deep (and limited only by my middle age), I admit that I did not follow baseball as closely as I do now through the Dark Years. I was an ultra-fanatic as a child, took a thirty-four year break, and became an ultra-fanatic again in the fall of 2004, as the Nats came to town. Certainly there are those among us that followed every baseball season meticulously, but I was not one of them, and I suspect that for the vast majority of Nationals fans, the Dark Years were dark years.

When you’re a ten year-old kid, and you live, eat and breathe the Washington Senators, your focus is on your favorite player – for me, that was Frank Howard. I was only vaguely aware of who Bob Short was, and it was not until late in the 1971 season that I any appreciation at all for what his bumbling ownership meant. From the perspective of a child, he was an adult who had done me wrong, even if I was unaware or incapable of understanding how he had done it. I was hurt, and it was personal.

After Short came Bowie Kuhn, Ray Kroc and Peter Angelos – all three conspiring against me and other Washingtonians to keep baseball out of the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps it isn’t fair to lump all three into the same basket of disdain – after all, Ray Kroc was just trying to save the Padres for the city of San Diego, rather than deny them to Washington. But really, it didn’t matter, since I didn’t have a home baseball team.

When the Nationals came to town in 2004, it was only after Washington and a half-dozen other cities begged and pleaded with Major League Baseball to be allowed into the club, and the city of Washington paid a ransom of over $600 million, in the form of a new stadium. And in many respects, the 2005 Nationals were less than you would expect from an expansion team, since the entire organization had been gutted top-to-bottom. Washingtonians were starved for baseball. We were made to beg to get our team back (and our victory was at the expense of the fans in Montreal). The organization we got in the bargain has proven to be hobbled for what will likely be ten years because of Major League Baseball’s willful mismanagement of the team.

Now that I had a home team to root for again (even though I live 4000 miles away), I looked at baseball differently than I ever had before. Sure, I still had my favorite players, but of equal or even greater import was how the organization ran. For the next four years it ran not well at all. Under the ownership of MLB and then the Lerner family, Jim Bowden was part General Manager, part sideshow barker. His three tenets of management seemed to be to give the fallen a second chance, make a big splash, and “it’s about Jim Bowden, stupid.”

As a Nationals fan who watches the organization, the four major baseball holidays – Spring training, the entry draft, the trade deadline and the Winter Meetings – were times when you could always count on Jim Bowden to come up with something. Even his inaction, such as his inability to trade Alfonso Soriano, was structured to be a Jim Bowden publicity stunt.

More than once, both to friends and in this space, I made the argument that we as Nationals fans should be thankful that we have a team at all. Certainly that is true. But our gratitude should not be confused with blindly accepting the Nationals without looking at them with a critical eye – and I now admit that I was not as critical as I should have been. When SmileyGate broke in 2009 I realized what many before me had been saying – the Nationals were in the midst of an organizational crisis, and a big part of the problem was Jim Bowden.

When Bowden left, and Mike Rizzo became  the General Manager, Nationals fans finally caught a glimpse of what competent organizational management was all about. Rizzo couldn’t be more different than Bowden. Rizzo is all about building a top-shelf major league organization, and came to the position with a great resume’. Rizzo is quiet and thoughtful… and in fact, listening to him speak and trying to make sense of what he says is a bit like listening to Alan Greenspan talk about the economy – he is oracle-like in his obfuscation.

A year and a half with Rizzo at the helm has been just what the doctor ordered for Nationals fans. While the team as a whole has shown only modest progress under his leadership, the Nationals have a top-notch bullpen, and have drafted two of the most highly-touted prospects in many years in the form of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. In addition, other homegown talents such as Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond all made the Nationals in 2010, showing that the organization is indeed growing and maturing. Whatever angst Nationals fans had about the organization during the Bowden years has probably been assuaged.

Until yesterday.

And by yesterday, I mean, the day Adam Dunn signed a four-year contract with the White Sox.

Truthfully, that anxiety has been building since the summer, when it became clear that the Nationals weren’t all that interested in signing Adam Dunn. I think a lot of us thought that the Nationals would come to their senses and sign Dunn, and that the low and/or short-term offer was a strategy to get Dunn at the price they wanted. And perhaps it was, but you would think that Mike Rizzo wouldn’t take that stance without a Plan B.

Actually, I think that it is the other way around – Adam Dunn was Plan B.

Which brings me to the angst. If Adam Dunn was Plan B, what is Plan A?

I think, to most casual (and perhaps serious) observers, Plan A isn’t obvious.

I can tell you this, if Plan A is Carlos Peña or Adam LaRoche, I don’t think the fans are going to be happy. I won’t be happy.

I’ve said this before – I am not a Major League General Manager, and neither are (almost) any of you, so I am not, and you are not qualified to make an informed judgment about the merits of who the Nationals have to play first base. But given that most fans had a strong opinion on whether the Nationals were going to keep Dunn, I think that most fans would agree that Plan A better be some kind of plan. Nationals fans liked 40 home runs and 110 RBIs a season. Nationals fans liked the affection and respect that Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn shared. Nationals fans thought that Dunn made Willingham and Zimmerman and the rest of the lineup better hitters.

Mike Rizzo, you better have a heck of a Plan A.

What is different today is that the bar is set a lot higher for Mike Rizzo than it was for Jim Bowden – and rightly so. Nationals fans are done with rebuilding, especially when, from their perspective, the rebuilding is being preceded by demolition. I am willing to take Rizzo’s actions as an indication that one of baseball’s best minds has a plan, and that 2011 will be better (by a lot) than 2010. In the meantime, I think I need to express my expectations.

The only rationale that works for me is that by letting Adam Dunn walk, the Nationals are going to be a better team… and not in three or four years, but the day pitchers and catchers report. Of course, Rizzo isn’t one to articulate his plans to the public – after all, he’s like the oracle. We have to infer his intentions from his actions.

We suffered through Bob Short, and we suffered through thirty-four years of no baseball. We begged for our team and paid the ransom. We put up with the dysfunction of Major League Baseball-as-owner, and the dysfunction of Jim Bowden. As fans and as a community, we’ve been at this for almost fifty years, and for forty-eight-and-a-half of them we’ve gotten the short shrift. I was ready to believe that when Mike Rizzo became GM, that we had finally seen the beginning of a new era.

I want to believe that. But you’ll forgive me if a lifetime of rooting for baseball in Washington has made me cynical.

By letting Adam Dunn go, Mike Rizzo has set the bar very high.

Mike Rizzo, you better have a heck of a Plan A.

Teddy: A Sign of the Times

Marketing has never been a particular strong suit for the Nationals, but The Rushmores, also known as the “Racing Presidents” were an instant success back when they were introduced in 2006. When it comes to fan entertainment at baseball games, the mid-game mascot race, whether you’re talking about variety meats, dinner pastry or presidents, is not particularly new. In a town where national monuments are part of the social fabric, The Rushmores are a perfect match for Washington.

Back when I was in college, one of the first big projects I worked on in communication was a criticism project where we listened to the stories of the employees, and made sense of their narrative using something called Fantasy Theme Analysis. The idea here is that when you talk to people in an organization, they recount their stories using metaphor, as a way to add depth to the example. For instance, an employee might talk about always putting out fires – an indication that someone in the organization is always first to step up, be the hero, but in a reactive way. He or she is responding to crises, rather than showing strategic leadership. Pick your fairy tale or two, and there’s an organization that matches it – whether you’re talking about nurturing parents, authoritarian ship captains or calculating villains. The story-teller uses these metaphors as a way to describe the context in which he or she understands their organization’s culture.

If you were to ask a long-time Washingtonian about the history of sports in the city, it would be the tale of institutionalized, long-term mediocrity. The Senators have their World Series in 1924, but when people talk about it, the narrative is more about how exceptional that event was – Washington’s only World Series. Damn Yankees is the literary parable that memorializes the lovable loser. The Washington Generals are the perpetual foil of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Washington Capitals are holders of numerous milestones of mediocrity, including the worst regular season record ever, and no Stanley Cup Championships in their thirty-five year history. Even the Redskins, with three Super Bowl wins and two NFL championships  in their history, have become more about the hype and preparation, and less about winning. I would even suggest that the Redskins get more and better media exposure when they lose than when they win; a disincentive to winning for a team that is so successful in its merchandising.

Despite our history and culture, Washingtonians certainly have an appetite for winning teams. When the Nats made their improbable run in the first half of 2005, RFK was packed every game. The Caps recent success has filled The Phone Booth. The Redskins sellouts of today were built on “The Future Is Now” philosophy of George Allen. But Washingtonian sports culture has an excuse and tolerance for losing, to the point of accepting it as destiny.

Culture doesn’t change overnight, and it often takes generations. But while mediocrity might feel like destiny, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Joe Gibbs proved that (the first time).

Fairy tales are morality plays we use to teach our values. Which brings me back to Teddy. The Rushmores are the Nats’ fairy tale. They would be cute, even if all of the presidents won from time to time. But the current narrative, where Teddy loses every race, resonates with us because Teddy has become a metaphor for the Nationals. We see ourselves as Washington sports fans in the results of every race. The narrative is protected and continued because there’s a sense that if Teddy were to win, the joke would be over, and if the joke is over, what does that mean for Teddy and the other presidents - and what does it mean for the Nats? The problem is, every time Teddy loses, he reinforces the stereotype of Washington sports as the laughing stock of the nation.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating that we “Let Teddy Win.” It isn’t as simple as staging a win for Teddy, and suddenly the Nationals fortunes will be reversed. What I am suggesting is that we reject the mindset that it is acceptable that Teddy lose every race. In a world where we stop placing value in the Washington sports stereotype, the perpetual loser Teddy ceases to be the compelling character that he is.

I’ve been to nine Nationals games this season. Teddy has lost all nine of those Presidents Races. The Nats have lost eight of those game. Coincidence? Perhaps… but less than you might imagine.

If we start thinking about Sports in Washington, and the Presidents Race differently, is that the end of the joke? Perhaps. But what it needs to be is the end of the Washington Senators, and Washington sports in general, as the iconic model of what the Nationals should be.

So the catchphrase shouldn’t be “Let Teddy Win.”

It should be “Free Teddy. Free the Nationals.”

Fantasy Baseball

I am going to take you back in time a few weeks… in an alternate universe. The date: April 18, 2009.

In this alternate universe, the Nationals played the Marlins at Nationals Park. The Nats won, 6-2. Scott Olsen went eight innings, giving up two runs and six hits. The Nats had a five-run first inning, including a grand slam by Austin Kearns. Joe Beimel came in and pitched the ninth, giving up a hit.

What is the difference between this universe and the universe that we live in? In this alternative universe, the Nats had no errors in this game, and in our “real” universe, the Nats had three.

Here’s the thing: Even in the universe where there were only two errors in the game instead of three, if the error that is missing is Nick Johnson’s dropped popup in the fifth inning, the Nats still win, 6-5, with Joel Hanrahan getting the save.

I bring this up because there are a lot of people who are only too happy to pile onto the bullpen problems as the cause for the Nationals woes. I am among the first to point out that the bullpen has not been a stellar part of the mix. But in their defense, the bullpen has been asked to come into games and pitch in situations where they never should have. And when you’re a pitcher, and you’re worried that your shortstop is going to boot a ball (or two) in a game, you start pitching for strikeouts. You start pitching not to make a mistake. You start pitching not to lose.

Which, by the way, is different than pitching to win.

I know that my example is both not statistically valid and an exaggeration. But my point is, you can’t give teams – especially National League East teams – extra outs, extra bases, extra runs, and then be upset with the bullpen about giving up a lead… if you’re not first upset with your defense about not protecting the lead you’ve built in the first place.

I suspect that the problem is not one that is solved by changing personnel, including the manager. I believe it is one where each player needs to be focused and accountable for their outcomes. That is more a leadership issue.

Errors happen, and teams win games where they make errors. In last night’s game, Anderson Hernandez made an error on the second half of a double play, throwing the ball away and allowing the batter to advance to second. But the Nats won, and while Hernandez probably should have swallowed the throw, he made the throw trying to be aggressive and get the second out. A mistake of youth. The Nats survived the inning, and the game.

If the Nats can reduce their erros, if the pitchers – both starters and the bullpen – can start to relax and trust their defense, if the whole team can start playing the way they know they can… this will be an interesting season.

If they can’t… well, my head hurts already. It will be a long, hot summer.

… and a thanks to Jeff Bergin at NationalsPride.com for the seed of this idea.

… and one other thing – the picture at the top of this page was from that game.

Spring Returns to Washington

Filed under: Background,Fan Experience — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 6:28 pm April 12, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if all the traveling is worth it.

I make two trips a year to Washington. I come in April for the opening homestand, and again in September, for the last one. I’ve done that for five straight years. In addition, last year I ran down the road to Seattle to see the Nats play at Safeco.

In all, I catch about ten Nats games a year in person. If you ignore the thirty-three year break between the Senators and the Nats, I’ve been to every opening day since 1971.

Two years ago I didn’t see them win… Not once, in nine games. On the other hand, last year they only lost twice out of the nine games I saw in person (including opening day at Nationals Park, and the next day at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia).

Things aren’t looking so hot for the home nine this year, either. It matters to me if they win or lose. But it matters more to me that I be a part of it.

As cities go, Washington is a bit strange, in that there are so few people who are from ‘here’ – and I can say ‘here’ because I am ‘here’ for Opening Day. So many of us are from somewhere else. For those of us who were born here, there is an awareness of place that very few people share. Baseball was a part of that place for me as a child, and after the Senators left in 1971, I have to admit, the Orioles did help to fill some of that gap for me. But for a lot of people, baseball is not enough in itself. Baseball is wonderful, but it must also be about the place… our home. As wonderful as it was to watch the Orioles in the 70′s and 80′s, Baltimore is where you went to watch the O’s, and you came home to Washington. That long commute down I-95 after a night game served to remind me – the hundreds of times that I made that trip – that I had to leave home to watch baseball.

When the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005, it was a restoration of that piece of Washingtonian life that had been missing since my childhood. Even though I lived 4000 miles away, I was drawn to the reality that I could once again watch baseball in my hometown. I’ve been a part of it ever since.

My hometown has a baseball team again. Tomorrow, something wonderful happens. It is a sure sign that summer is about to be here… a summer we went without for thirty-three years.

Does it matter if they win or lose? Absolutely.

But not as much as it does to be a part of it.

It is definitely worth it.

Be a part of it.

Spring Cleaning

Filed under: Background — Tags: — Wigi @ 11:40 am February 25, 2009

With all the rumor going around, this blog title is one that might be rather appropriate today, though I will leave the rumor mongering and reporting to those that are in better positions to do it than I.

First, if you happened to miss my posting yesterday, here’s a link to it: Boxed Scores.

Second, I wanted to give all of you… both bloggers and fans alike… a suggestion.

Twitter.

Twitter is, for lack of a better word, a micro-blogging site. Posts to Twitter are limited to 140 characters. Despite its brevity it has a lot of practical uses though, and one of them is to alert people about updated blogs. When I post a blog, I put a link to it on Twitter.

Of course, Twitter’s utility isn’t limited to just posting links… it is a bit like the status on Facebook, so you can say just about anything. You can also send and receive Twitter updates directly through your text messages on your mobile phone, and there are a number of smartphone applications that allow you to have a more elegant interface on your phone. Also, there is a Google Desktop plugin that gives you a near real-time feed of ‘tweets’ (what twitter messages are called).

Twitter is free, and you don’t get a bunch of spam or ads because of it. You can register at www.twitter.com and if you’d like to follow my tweetstream, you can find me here.

Lastly, for those of you who like gadgety transportation, you might check out Craigslist in Central Florida. I think there might be a used Segway for sale.

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence: Bowden is Incompetent

Intro … Bowden is Incompetent… Aaron Crow SidebarLerners are cheap

There seem to be a lot of people who are unhappy with Jim Bowden. Interestingly, very few of them happen to be the principals of the Washington Nationals.

Bowden didn’t sign Aaron Crow. Bowden signed Lo Duca and Estrada, and ended up stuck with their contracts, rather than starting Flores with the Nats. Bowden traded for Kearns and Lopez. Bowden traded for Wily Mo Pena. I could go on (and on). Suffice to say, Bowden’s list of sins is long.

Unless, of course, these are not sins at all.

Fans have no problem spotting poor performances on the field. Every fan has his or her favorites, and his or her list of players that need to be playing somewhere else. Watching a team like the Nationals is particularly painful when, for most people, the second list is considerably longer than the first. But having a list of players you would rather see somewhere else… or perhaps, a list of players that you would prefer were never here in the first place, should not be misconstrued as a referendum on the tenure of a general manager, whether he be Jim Bowden or anyone else.

Acquiring Major League players is not an exact science. In fact, it is not a science at all, but rather, an art. Billy Beane and other proponents of the Moneyball mindset would like you to believe that player acquisition can more or less be distilled down to an equation. But in reality, it can’t. Every GM has a philosophy about how the game should be played and which players best embody the skills needed to play the game that way. Implementing that philosophy takes all that into account, plus the specific conditions at the time – the team’s budget, the availability of players and prospects in your system to trade, the current state of the season (or offseason), etc.

The problem with fans evaluating the performance of a general manager is that fans have almost no information (in real time) about any of this… and for that matter, any idea what the GM does day to day. Fans do not have access to scouting information. Fans do not have information about injuries. Fans do not follow the GM around, listen to his phone calls, sit in on meetings, talk to managers and coaches, etc. Most importantly, GMs are not accountable to the fans, and so the fan’s standard of competence isn’t even relevant.

When fans do get insight into the workings of the organization and the job of the general manager, much of it comes in the form of formal statements or presentations created for fan consumption – such as a radio interview or a fan event with a Q and A session. It is great when those things happen, but it is fair to say that whatever comes of those statements and presentations is canned content for the fans, and that there really isn’t anything of substance said… and certainly that is true with the Nationals.

Even if one looks at the comments that Bowden made regarding the status of Chad Cordero’s 2009 contract, no reasonable person would be surprised by the fact that Cordero would be non-tendered, given the circumstances. What bothered people most is how it was done, and I thought that it was rather boorish to have it play out the way it did. Even so, those are style points, and for the most part, they don’t affect how the GM does his job.

Here is what we do know about the Nats and Bowden: Bowden arrived with the Nats at a time where the ownership had a conflict of interest with the rest of the league. By the time that conflict of interest was resolved and the Lerners were sold the team, the minor league system was bereft of talent. The team, under the stewardship of the Lerners and the tenure of Kasten, implemented a plan to rebuild the team through the revitalization of the farm system, much as Kasten did in Atlanta with the Braves (The Plan). This involved good scouting, strong drafts, trading performing veteran players for prospects, developing your own talent within the system, and the judicious signing of free agents – low budget at first, and then big names when it came to the last piece or pieces of a championship team.

What part of that plan hasn’t Bowden done? In fact, he’s done it all, just as promised.

But what about Aaron Crow? How is letting your number one draft pick walk part of “The Plan?”

Good question. The answer is, none of us know – and can’t know, because teams (and agents and players) just don’t share this kind of information. My guess is that Crow never intended to sign with the Nats, either because he disliked the idea of playing here, or he was hiding something – an injury, perhaps - that affected his ability to play. By orchestrating the failed negotiation, he retains his draft value in the future… and who better to make the patsy of a failed negotiation than someone whose reputation has been called into question, such as Bowden? That gambit doesn’t work with another GM.

The problem is not whether Bowden is competent, or whether he is a good judge of baseball talent, or a good GM. For most fans, the real issue comes down to not liking Bowden, and at the same time, not liking the team they’re watching. Sure, fans can point to particular transactions and say that the Nats should have done this, and not done that… Or that, and maybe they should have done this, too. The fan substitutes his or her amateur 20-20 hindsight for the judgement of the GM, and the fan always comes out smelling like roses, as he or she sits in their $40 seats watching the latest four-pitch walk or two base error, or GIDP. The bottom line is, no fan is qualified to evaluate the performance of the general manager. Fans have no meaningful idea what is being asked of Bowden and whether he is or isn’t doing what it… and none of us are qualified to be general managers or team presidents… Otherwise we would be GMs or team presidents.

As an outside observer, I believe Bowden has been given a specific mandate, and he appears to have done exactly what has been asked of him. Does that mean he is beyond criticism? Absolutely not! I have my own reasons to be unsure of Bowden and of his future with the Nats. But none of my questions have much to do with who was traded for whom, or who we drafted. I don’t believe that the Nats are anywhere except exactly where we were told they would be at the end of this season. Sure, their record this year is worse by quite a bit, and it was one of the more painful seasons to watch. But the Nationals are fundamentally a much better organization in almost any meaningful way (except won-loss record) than they were at the end of last year. All of the facts are entirely consistent with the implementation of “The Plan.” The problem is, most of the fans can’t stand it.

There may be good reasons to get rid of Jim Bowden. I haven’t heard anyone articulate them yet.

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence

Filed under: Background,Organization — Wigi @ 12:38 pm September 24, 2008

Intro… Bowden is incompetentAaron Crow SidebarLerners are cheap

When I first started this blog, I knew that I didn’t have the pedigree to talk about the performance of individual players, the ins and outs of all things SABR, earned run average (I should figure out how to calculate that sometime) or any of the other stuff that is the heart and soul of most baseball blogs. To emphasize that point, last night I sat with my good blog buddy Mike Henderson, and during the Nats four run rally in the eighth inning, I pointed out to Mike that Marlins pitcher Eulogio De La Cruz’ ERA was 18.00, and that “. . . balls were beating strikes 16-15.” Honestly, I understand the statistics, but I don’t care about them. What I do care about (and I believe qualified to comment on), and what I watch is how the organization lives and breathes.

Apparently other people do too… and a considerable amount of blog space has been dedicated to the topic. Unfortunately, I think almost all of it is bunk. I am not saying that it is wrong, but I am saying that it isn’t based in fact.

Let me be clear at the start – there is nothing debatable about the quality of the Nationals on-field product. It was, and is, completely miserable. Pick your standard, and the Nats were at or near the top of being on the bottom – it is nice to excel at something, I suppose. But to be honest, people don’t seem to be complaining too much about the on-field product, except as it relates to how the organization functions. For example:

The Nationals suck because Bowden is incompetent.

The Nationals suck because the Lerners are cheap.

Those two statements seem to cover about 80 percent of the critical voices. Maybe more - to be honest, I sorta glaze over when I hear this kind of thing.

Here’s the thing – Neither of those two statements is proven (or for that matter, provable, by most standards) and most likely, neither is correct. But either or both are being assumed as the basis for criticism of the Nationals organization. I say it is unfair and unwarranted – certainly in the face of what is known about the organization.

I have been stewing about this topic for a while. My frustration with the inflammatory criticism (in contrast to what I believe is warranted criticism) has severely affected my ability to enjoy the season – it is like having your neighbors playing with their chainsaw and lawnmower when you’re trying to trying to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve wanted to get this off my chest, but get sucked into a whirlpool of electronic baseball despair whenever I start.

At Mike’s suggestion, I am going to write a short series of blogs that, if not refute, at least address the issues of the Lerners and Bowden.

But I am going to start that tomorrow… because tonight I am going to watch the Nats. No matter how bad it gets in the field, it beats the hell out of 1972. And 1973. And 1974. And…

Holding a Grudge

Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 30, 1971?

If you do, then you know exactly why today is an important day in Washington baseball history.

I remember where I was on that night – I was in my room, with my transistor radio, listening to the last Senators game ever. I was ten years old. They left town. I’ve never forgiven them.

“They” were so embarrassed by the shabby and thoughtless way they treated me and the thousands of other Senators fans that they left behind, that they had to change their name. Now they’re known as the Texas Rangers. And they’re coming to Washington tonight, after 37 years, pretending like nothing happened.

Bastards.

What’s wrong with them? Do they think that ten year old kids just forget about being left to fend for themselves to complete their discovery of baseball?

At some point when I was in my early 20′s, and I was mobile enough to make rather frequent trips to Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles, I realized that the Senators moving to Texas had made a huge difference in my life. When I was a kid, I remember carrying my transistor radio around while my mother was grocery shopping, listening to spring training games on the radio, and at the same time wishing that the thermometer would inch up to 50 degrees. I didn’t go anywhere in the summer without my baseball glove, and there was a certain rhythm and routine to my day, that always ended in a baseball game, or a game of catch. Televised games were a rarity back then, but my childhood schedule revolved around those televised games, and of course, I would listen on the radio whenever I could.

When I was a kid, trips to RFK Stadium were relatively rare – perhaps two or three a season. I remember my first game as if it were yesterday, and I remember being in awe of the incredible green that was the inside of RFK Stadium. I remember watching sitting in the mezzanine with my mom and dad and two brothers on a Sunday afternoon against the Yankees. I remember the last opening day, where the Senators shut out the Oakland A’s, 8-0.

That night in late September, as the Senators took the lead against the Yankees, I was thrilled. I remember thinking that perhaps something would change, and the Senators would stay after all. I remember Frank Howard hitting that home run, and listening to the crowd roar on the radio. I remember the chaos as the fans twice stormed onto the field. I remember the Senators led 7-5, but the official final score was a 9-0 loss by forfeit.

There was no spring in 1972. Add to that, the renaissance of the Redskins and the tenure of George Allen, and the transformation of a baseball fan into a football fan had begun. I no longer carried my baseball glove with me in the summers. I think I went to a baseball game at Memorial Stadium that next year, for “Safety Patrol Day”, but I can’t even remember who played, or any of the details of the game. As great as the Orioles were then they weren’t ‘my’ team, and they weren’t going to take the place of the Senators in my heart. And I tried to find love for the Rangers, but there was something definitely wrong with trying to love someone/something that had abandoned you.

It wasn’t like my love for baseball died, but I have often wondered how my life would have been different if baseball had been a bigger part of my youth – or at least, the part after 1971. Instead of getting dusty and dirty at the diamond, I hung out at the swimming pool. Who knows what other forms of juvenile delinquency might have been avoided if we’d only had a local baseball team?

When the Expos moved to Washington at the end of 2004, I was caught by surprise at how strongly I reacted to the news. And while most of my family still lives in the Washington Area, I live in Alaska, and lead a decidedly un-east-coast existence. But I have made room in my life, and in my heart for the Nationals, and I follow them as closely as I might if I lived in Silver Spring, rather than Anchorage. Heck, it’s only June, and I’ve already seen them in person six times this season (I am 6-0 in games I’ve attended this year… are you paying attention, Stan?).

So tonight, I am faced with the homecoming 37 years in the making – the night that the Senators return to Washington. Admittedly, these are not the same Senators that left in 1971; ownership has changed hands at least a couple times. I couldn’t be bothered by the exact details. What matters is, it is them. They are the ones that abandoned me, and abandoned Washington.

We might not have realized it, but we suffered those 33 seasons without baseball. A whole generation of Washingtonians never got to know what Washington Baseball was all about. Girl at work (June 19, 2008 at 4:30 PM) had it exactly right. Bad baseball is better than no baseball, and thirty-three years of being told that black-and-orange was more than good enough for us… was simply not good enough. And while there are a lot of people who feel anger and animosity towards Peter Angelos for preventing the relocation of baseball to Washington for so long, it is time we remembered how we got to that situation in the first place.

I wish I could be there.

I would boo. I would root against them as hard as I could. I would bring signs to the game. I would think of caustic things to say. I would hope that 30,000 of my fellow fans will feel the same way, but was I said above, Washington is a generation removed from the Senators, and for some, memory is mercifully short.

I hope we kick their ass,  9-0 in each game. I hope they beg to get out of town on Sunday. Seeing them again in Washington in six years will be too soon.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass when you leave.

Notes From The Third Base Line

Filed under: Background,Fan Experience,Games,Players — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 5:34 pm June 13, 2008

Just a couple notes, posted from my phone…

Wily Mo Pena can, apparently, still hit. He hit a BP fastball out of the park here at Safeco. In a game, probably, thats a grounder to short.

There are a few other Nats fans in attendance. We all look shell-shocked.

Safeco is a spectacular place to watch a game. The park reminds me a bit of Citizens Bank Park and Nationals Park, but with an imposing roof hanging over right field. I have great seats tonight, but I will sample the upper reaches of the park tomorrow and Sunday.

No lines at the concession stands…

More later…